These black and white pictures are of the cremation ceremony of King Rama VIII at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. The photos were taken for Life Magazine in March 1950. I have also posted some video clips over at www.ThailandQA.com.
Category Archives: History of Thailand
Thai Soldiers march at the Victory Parade in Paris in July 1919
In the northwest corner of Sanam Luang, near the National Museum, there is an often neglected memorial for the brave Thai soldiers that died during World War I. It may seem strange now, but on 22nd July 1917, King Rama VI declared war on Germany and called for volunteers to go and fight alongside the Allies in Europe. It has been speculated that the king wanted to elevate his kingdom to an equal footing with the British, French and Americans who had all forced Thailand to sign unfair treaties. The following year, an Expeditionary Force consisting of a contingent of Army Transport Corps and Army Air Corps arrived in Europe. A total of 1,284 troops were sent which also included nurses. The soldiers fought alongside British and American forces and at least 19 of them died. The members of the Army Air Corps took longer to train and by the time they were ready there was only a few weeks left of the war. The following year, in July 1919, the Thai Expeditionary Force took part in the Victory Parade in Paris. They returned to Thailand towards the end of that same year. The ashes of the fallen soldiers were placed inside the memorial in Sanam Luang. The gamble of King Rama VI was seemingly paid off. Thailand was invited to be a founding member of the League of Nations in 1920. The unfair treaties were then ceded by the Americans in 1920 and the British and French in 1925.
For about ten years now, I have been on a quest to find the Paknam Steam Trains. These are part of the first railway that ran between Bangkok and the mouth of the Chao Phraya River at Paknam. Work on the private line started in 1887. It was then formally opened by King Rama V on 11th April 1893. There were 12 stations including the two terminals. In Bangkok, the station was near present day Hualamphong Station. In Paknam, the terminus was by the market. The trains pulled four carriages which were made up of 2nd and 3rd class seating. It took the steam train about one hour to reach Paknam which is amazingly fast compared to these days. After World War I, the line was changed to electric trams. It was then nationalized after World War II and finally closed in 1959.
There were four locomotives on the Paknam line. All of them were made by Krauss & Co. of Munich in Germany. Numbers 1 and 2 were 0-4-0Ts (dated 1892), Number 3 was a 2-4-0T (dated 1896) and Number 4 a 2-4-0T (dated 1908). These latter trains were similar to the locomotives used on the Maeklong Railway. One of these engines can be seen at the Planetarium and Science Museum at Ekkamai. I have been trying to find the Paknam Steam Trains for a long time and now thanks to Robert from Chiang Mai I have located one of them. The pictures here are of Locomotive No. 4 which had the nickname “Samrong”. The engine is in surprisingly good working order. At least it has a good paint job. It is doubtful it can actually run. Robert gave me the tip that he found it in a sugar cane factory in Wang Khapi in Uttaradit Province. Apparently the factory bought it to transport sugar cane from their factory to the main railway line. It was a seven hour drive north of Paknam but I was determined to drive up there to see the steam train for myself.
I spent the night in Phitsanulok and then drove up to Wang Khapi in the morning. I didn’t know the exact location but it wasn’t long before I spotted the large trucks full of sugar cane and then the tall chimneys billowing smoke at the factory. As I drove past the factory gates I spotted the train. I was so happy it was still there and still in good condition. As it was inside the gates I had to ask permission to take a closer look. The guys on security told me to go up to the office to speak to the manager about taking pictures. I then told them that I would like to take a picture of the steam train. They kept asking why. Thais can never understand the strange obsessions of foreigners. Anyway, after I said that I had driven up specially from Samut Prakan to find this train they let me go and take some pictures. It turns out that no-one at the factory knew of the history of this engine. They seemed interested when I told them that this engine used to run on the first railway line in Thailand over 100 years ago.
I am really happy that I have now seen one of the Paknam Steam Trains. I am also delighted to see that it is in excellent condition and being well looked after. So, that is one down and three to go. I wonder where the remaining locomotives can be. And will they also be in good condition? If you are interested in trains then I recommend the excellent book “The Railways of Thailand” by R. Ramer. It is published by White Lotus. If anyone thinks they know where the Paknam trains might be, then please contact me. I will be posting more of my steam train pictures here at thai-blogs.com in the near future.
For a long time now I have been searching for the original steam trains in Thailand that ran on the Paknam Railway. A couple of days ago someone said I should visit the headquarters of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) as they believed that the Paknam train was preserved there. So, I drove up to Hua Lamphong Station today to check it out. The train was indeed a Krauss locomotive from Germany like the Paknam trains and it also had the distinctive chimney. However, this one was used on the Maeklong Railway like the one I found at the Ekkamai Science Museum recently. This one is locomotive No. 5427 (a 2-4-0T train) and dated 1906. The running number was originally MRC 1 but was later changed to MRC 7. According to an information plate, it had a maximum speed of 40 km/h. The four trains I am looking for have a manufacture number of 2696-7 (1892 A.D.), 3336 (1896 A.D.) and 5987 (1908 A.D.). The first two are 0-4-0Ts and the second two 2-4-0Ts like this one. It was so close but I am afraid my quest will have to continue. I now have a tip that one of these trains is now in Northern Thailand about a 6 hour drive from Paknam. Looks like I have a road trip ahead of me.
My second reason for going to Hua Lamphong Station today was to book my tickets for a ride on a steam train later this month. The SRT organize three of these trips every year from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. These always happen on 26th March (anniversary of the founding of SRT), 23rd October (anniversary of the birth of King Rama V) and 5th December (birthday of King Rama IX). Steam Train 901 leaves Bangkok at 8 a.m. and arrives just over two hours later in Ayutthaya. You can then join a coach tour of Ayutthaya or do your own thing. Steam Train 902 then returns at 5.25 p.m. arriving in Bangkok at 7.20 p.m. There is a charge of 120 baht for the return trip and 180 baht for the coach tour. If you are interested in going then you will have to be quick as the tickets are running out fast. You can buy them at the advanced booking office at Hua Lamphong. We will be in carriage 6 so come and say hello if you join this trip. I will share some photos of the trip as soon as we get back.
For a long time I have been searching for the original steam trains that were imported into Thailand back in the 1890’s. As I have mentioned before, the first railway in Thailand ran from Paknam to Bangkok. As I live there I have been trying to find at least one of the four original engines. But, to no avail. Then someone wrote to me and said I should check out the Planetarium and Science Museum at Ekkamai. So, that is where I drove this afternoon. I found the above steam train around the back near the canteen. I won’t say it was in good working order, but it had a fresh layer of paint that showed someone cared. I was really excited when I first saw the train as I thought I had found the Paknam Train. But, although the distinctive chimney is the same, there were a few differences. Most notably this has a set of three wheels whereas the Paknam Train had only two.
According to the excellent book “The Railways of Thailand” by R. Ramer, this train was imported to be used on the eastern section of the Maeklong Railway between Bangkok and Samut Sakhon. This section was run by Thaichin Railway Co (TRC). The western section was operated by the Maeklong Railway Co. (MRC) and ran between Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram. It was manufactured by Krauss of Munchen, Germany in 1903 and had the working numbers of 5011-5012. The plate on the above black and white picture looks like 5011 and the one I saw this afternoon was definitely 5012. However, another smaller plate attached to the engine on this train said 5011. Even more confusing, is the identification MRC 2 which is clearly wrong as those trains are dated 1905. It looks like when it was restored parts from different trains were used. Though I believe my one is engine 5011 and it was manufactured in 1903. The Paknam Trains were made by the same company.
In addition to the steam train, there is also a well preserved railway carriage and a Bangkok Tram which I will talk about later. On the way out, I spotted a couple more engines behind the Planetarium. These are in a very neglected state and it is obvious that they have been dumped here with the intention to let them rust away. I had to search really hard for any identification numbers. There were no plates at all. However, I could just make out the outline of the number 738 on this train.
The above train is No. 709 and is in the same series as the one I saw this afternoon. They were imported from Japan and are dated 1935-36. They were used all over Thailand though mainly on the Kanchanaburi line to Nam Tok. There are only two of these left in good working order. They are used at the annual light and sound show during River Kwai Bridge Week. I photographed these recently in the Thonburi Railway sheds.
The second steam train is in a worse state. I was a bit puzzled at first but then realized that one side of the engine had been stripped away so that you could have a clearer look of the workings of the steam train. Obviously this one had once been an exhibit at this museum. Though very neglected now. Again, no plates but I could just work out the outline of the numbers which identified it as engine No 263.
This is a picture of engine No 260 waiting to leave Hua Lampong station in Bangkok. It is in the same series as the one I saw and was manufactured by Hanomag of Germany and is dated 1928-1929. Apparently, No. 261 is preserved at the train station in Nakhon Ratchasima. Others are spread around the country.
The Planetarium and Science Museum is easy to find. Take a Sky Train to Ekkamai and then walk north past the Eastern Bus Terminal and you will find it on your left opposite Major Cineplex. Entry to the grounds are free if you don’t want to visit the museum. Which incidentally is only 20 baht. I have marked it for you on the map at ThailandPhotoMap.com.
This is not the end of my quest to find the original steam trains in Thailand. They must (hopefully) be somewhere. I do have a few more clues of locations where they might be. I will be following these up soon and will report here at thai-blogs.com.
Update: We are discussing Steam Trains in Thailand (รถจักรไอน้ำ) at the ThailandQA.com forums.